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what.three.words: A Process to Client Discovery

December 8, 2017

I must confess, I am (occasionally☺) guilty of filtering my life through my lens as a coach. While that’s not always healthy, recently it resulted in an idea that I plan to use for myself and my clients.

My husband, son, and I have a tradition of spending the weekend before Thanksgiving with my family in Tulsa, OK; spending Thanksgiving day, just the three of us, in Duck, NC; and then flying to Seattle, WA, for our third Thanksgiving for the year. (We stay home for Christmas. Whew!)  

At our last Thanksgiving of this year, a couple of the young men in the family who work for tech companies got to talking about what’s new. That’s when what3words came up.

Where Am I? is a wayfinding platform that has mapped and named every location on the planet in three square meter chunks. Why do this? Because 75% of the world’s countries lack a reliable addressing system. And in highly developed countries, like the U.S., addresses don’t exist within parks, rural areas and rapidly developing areas.

what3words names every three square meters on the planet using three words. For instance, my home office in Seattle is located at joke.lonely.jungle. My home in Bethesda is located at friday.scan.bother.

That’s right – every three square meter location everywhere in the world is named using a unique three-word combination. So cool, right? This is where my coach lens kicked in.

Discover your unique three-word address on what3words here.

Wayfinding From Within

As a coach, you know that coaching is, in essence, facilitated wayfinding. We help our clients see clearly where they are, identify where they want to go, and help them find their way there. Sounds simple, right? Only, where our clients are and where they truly want to go is often times unmapped territory, unaddressed, and perhaps, out of conscious sight.

Often times, using devices like metaphor, we can help our clients to step out of their day-to-day linear, logical, analytical patterns and access more of themselves. We can provoke lateral thinking and use creative exercises to help our clients tap into dimensions of their experience they would not otherwise access. It occurred to me that what3words might be a device for inspiring deeper exploration.

Going First

When I heard about what3words and saw it as a metaphor for coaching, I immediately wanted to use it with my clients. I LOVED the idea of asking my client to use three words to describe their current location and three words to describe their desired location. (I plan to start using it in my Client Discovery process.)

I’ve learned that for me to truly connect with and help my clients, I have to go first. I have to do the work I’m asking my clients to do.

I can’t take my client anywhere I have not gone.

I was noodling how I might introduce what3words in a coaching context as I drove to meet my long-time client this week for breakfast. When he asked me how I was doing, I asked him if he was up for trying something new.

I described what3words and suggested that we each use it to describe our present location – where we were in relationship to our life. I told him that I would tell him my three words, and when I was done, I would ask him for his. He was game for it.

I told him my What 3 Words: trying.seed.simmering. I explained what that meant. (If you are curious about what those words meant to me, you can go here.)

And then I asked him his three words. (As you can imagine, that was a challenge. It’s a challenge that wouldn’t work with everyone all of the time.) He said, “I can’t come up with the words, but I have an image.  

“I am standing at the edge of a big lake, with a long swim ahead. I think I can make it across, but I’ve never done it before.” Such a rich metaphor. With a little bit more exploration, he came up with his three-word location: “ready.daunted.excited.” Wow!

From this simple metaphorical exercise, I learned so much, so fast, about my client and his relationship to his life and the challenges facing him.

The entire coaching conversation that followed stemmed from his response. To be clear, it wasn’t about the exercise or the exact words. The exercise was simply the tool that gave him access to a dimension of his experience that had been previously unmapped.

The What 3 Words exercise gave him access to a part of himself that he didn’t have access to before.  

Making Meaning

Perhaps even more important than our role in helping our clients improve is the opportunity we have to help our clients make meaning of their lives.

No matter what we do or what happens to us, what we take with us is the meaning we make from it.

If we can bring out our clients’ own resourcefulness, creativity, wholeness to their meaning-making, we can bring them into the fullness of themselves. We can help them build a foundation from which to thrive.

Now It’s Your Turn

Will it take a bit of courage to invite your clients to do this exercise? Yes, and it’s such a good thing that you are a coach! ‘Cause courage is part of the job description!

To encourage you to take that courageous leap, I’ve provided you with everything you need for using this What 3 Words exercise with a client. You can find it all here. Give it a shot and let us know how it goes. We’d love to hear.

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Fun Footnote

Sometimes we can see truth in the random (Or is it random?) nature of things. One of the three square meters at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC, has these three words as its location name: many.appear.windy. ☺ So tweetable too!


Alison Whitmire
President | Learning In Action


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